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Meat your maker

Former Disney Chef rekindles fire for simple southern BBQ in Lizton

By Lindsay Doty

In the wonderful world of Mickey Mouse (let your mind picture the fireworks exploding over Cinderella’s castle), they say “A dream is a wish your heart makes.” For former Disney chef Rob Ecker, that dream resides somewhere between a plate of perfectly smoked beef short ribs and a cold beer served in a place where folks feel at home.

After much planning, Ecker’s longtime vision is coming to life with the April 2nd opening of the Rusted Silo Southern BBQ and Brew House in Lizton.

“We want our guests to feel like they just stopped at a roadside BBQ joint that has been there for years, serving the same great food to thousands of travelers,” explained Ecker, who is owner and Pit Master/Brewer.

The classically trained chef from Panama City, Florida, has worked in some of the swankiest restaurants in the world, but always comes back to his fond memories of barbecuing as a kid.

 

“We would cook out over charcoal. We didn’t use gas, it was just always fun and the feeling you had whenever you cooked out (or ‘barbequed’ as people call it), it meant family, it meant fun and it meant good times, and that’s what I want to do.”

To evoke those same feelings, Ecker (along with his wife and co-owner Tina) has been working for the last year to transform a former liquor store building into a unique southern space, from the tin walls and wood accents (they found an old barn in Frankfort, Indiana, and transported it piece by piece) to the brick fire pit or “the pit” where guests can watch their meats go round on a large plasma cut custom rotisserie.

“So it is kind of like a meat Ferris wheel and all your barbeque meats just ride all day long as they cook,” he explained.

 

When it comes to creating an “experience,” you could say Ecker learned from the master, Walt Disney. He spent years working for the ubiquitous brand.

Back in the 90s and fresh out of culinary school, Ecker landed a job with Buckhead Life Restaurant Group in Atlanta, which was known for upscale dining. While working there, two of the company’s restaurants were selected to be duplicated within Euro Disney— now known as Disneyland Paris. In 1992, Ecker was chosen to be part of the crew that would help transition the launch of the Parkside Diner in Hotel New York for the resort.

“I ended up staying over there for a year and extended my stay because I just enjoyed it so much, working at Disney and being in France,” Ecker recalled.

 

When he came back stateside, the chef remained with Buckhead Life before venturing out on his own to open a microbrewery in Florida. He said the microbrew scene wasn’t a good fit at the time and remembers getting “burned out.”

That’s when he got the call from an old friend.

“He said, ‘I need you down here. Can you come to Disney?’”

Ecker jumped at the chance. He moved to Orlando where he worked as one of the chefs at the Polynesian Resort’s premiere Ohana restaurant for several years and later for the Animal Kingdom Lodge.

“They do such a great job of the theme, the quality, all the resorts do.”

After a successful and enjoyable run, Ecker eventually traded in his Mickey ears and chef’s hat for a position with Integrity Staffing Solutions where he ended up as a Midwest regional manager. He fell in love with Hendricks County and settled near Danville where he lives with his wife and daughter on a farm. Through the years, he never lost the desire for good BBQ and to have a restaurant of his own, but wanted to get it right when he took the leap.

In the days leading up to the opening, he’s up in the night running the mental “checklist” and spending afternoons temperature testing “the pit.” You can even find Ecker on social media sporting bib overalls and a Grizzly Adams-esque beard (he’s since cut it) promoting the Rusted Silo experience.

The restaurant boasts a menu bursting with fresh products and down-home sensibility, including a rich pork belly smoked in molasses, soy sauce, and bourbon, collard greens, and that aforementioned beef short rib.

“Nothing about what we are doing is fancy, but it is authentically southern, down to the last crumb of the bourbon pecan pie or spoonful of Mama June’s banana pudding.”

Dudley Foreman, owner of Arcane Coffee Company based in Danville, says he’s impressed with what Ecker has done.

“I think the whole idea is good. I think he picked a pretty good location. It could be a destination off the Interstate and it’s easy to get to. We need more restaurants in Hendricks County,” Foreman said.

He and Ecker (who met in a brew club) collaborated on one of the menu items—a smoked chicken rubbed in coffee grounds (Arcane, of course).

To get the Rusted Silo off the ground, Ecker says he had some challenges coming to a small town with something different.

“There are folks that don’t want the town to grow and there are folks that do.”

But he has been met with plenty of community support.

“As a beer fanatic who lived in Texas for 10 years, I couldn’t be more excited,” wrote Assistant Superintendent for Hendricks County Parks & Recreation Eric Ivie on the Visit Hendricks County website.

For Rob Ecker, it’s good food, hard work and maybe even a little bit of that Mickey magic that has brought his BBQ vision to life.

“We will try to be as close to Disney perfect as possible, we don’t have such deep pockets,” he joked. “We want people to enjoy the hospitality and walk away knowing what we provided that day was the best that they could have.”

For Rob Ecker, achieving that goal would be his happily ever after.

“This is my dream.  A place where I can share my excitement of food and beer with friends, family and strangers alike.  You’ll only be a stranger once, from then on, we’re kinfolk!  Bone Appetit Y’all!”